Sexual Assault Awareness & Prevention

Atalanta, a sidekick of Hercules

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As Written by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter
Washington, D.C.
April 02, 2015
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This April, the Department of Defense observes Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. While we must spread awareness and prevent these crimes each and every day, this is an important opportunity to remind ourselves why ridding our ranks of sexual assault and sexual harassment is so critical.

The values of honor and trust are the lifeblood of our military, and every act of sexual assault directly undermines those values. So too does every act of retaliation against those who report these crimes.

This year’s theme, “Eliminate Sexual Assault: Know Your Part. Do Your Part.” reminds us that we all have a responsibility to prevent these crimes and support the survivors – not only to live our core values and protect one another, but also to ensure our people can focus on the mission. This is an issue our force, both of today and tomorrow, cares deeply about. When I spoke at my high school earlier this week, a young student asked me about the issue of sexual assault and wanted to know what we were doing to ensure our military is “a safe and welcome place.”

That is why it is the responsibility of every servicemember to help make our military the last place a sexual offender wants to be. Together, we must assure an environment where sexual assault is neither condoned nor ignored; we must reinforce a culture of prevention, accountability, dignity, and respect throughout our ranks; and we must advocate for and staunchly support all who courageously report this crime.

Our nation looks to us to lead boldly on this front – and to care for our fellow men and women who bravely serve. Every single one of us must know our part, do our part, and keep doing whatever it takes to eliminate sexual assault in the military.

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Atalanta & her charioteer in the midst of battle

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http://www.defense.gov/Speeches/Speech.aspx?SpeechID=1928

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The Elder Inside The Sufi Bubble

 by Rawclyde!

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Tiny bubbles & colossal bubbles

All kinds of bubbles blowing in the wind

Full of Sufi miracles

Impossible to comprehend

~

Capt’n Chuck Fiddler’s Afghaneeland Bubble

Inside which resides the mountain ridge

On which is perched the village of Pluckame

Now hovers above a borderland of Afghanistan

~

~

Afghan National Army soldiers fire their guns

The Taliban keep a comin’ outta Pakistan

Faraway Iraq sucks up American air support

But for one strange bubble in the sky

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Capt’n Chuck Fiddler’s Afghaneeland Bubble

The most viable support Afghan soldiers have got now

From the United States or from their own nation

Has them buffaloed & worried

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No Afghan president yet to replace the old one

American firepower as good as gone

Pakistan nextdoor going nuts, refugees everywhere

And Taliban!

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40 soldiers surrounded by 1,000 screaming enemy

And 10,000 ricocheting singing bullets

 Repeatedly look up & pray for a stray Warthog aeroplane

But all they see up there is a bubble!

~

~

Capt’n Chuck Fiddler’s Afghaneeland Bubble

Offers them as much soothing consolation as an unarmed goat

With a bell around his neck warning every Talib in the vicinity

That he is lamb-chops sneeking around

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One Afghan patriot, Pvt. Ghani Gandhara, gets a bullet in the belly

Moans, gazes futiley at the sky & spies the damn bubble

 That pretends to be a Sufi miracle floating amidst the tumultuous clouds

 The wounded private cries out, “Ah shit!  Allah loves the Taliban!!!”

~

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One of the oldest living faces on planet Earth shows up

Magnified magnificently on the soapy orb above the profusely bleeding soldier

And, thusly, an elder of the village inside it speaks forth to Pvt. Gandhara

“Have faith.  It’s all you’ve got right now.”

~

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Tiny bubbles & colossal bubbles

All kinds of bubbles blowing in the wind

Full of Sufi miracles

Too wondrous to comprehend

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Afghaneeland Adventure Series | Old Timer Chronicle II

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Text / Copyright Clyde Collins 2014

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ANA soldier photos by Victor Blue

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/asia/photographer-embeds-five-day-clearing-mission-afghan-troops-n177381

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Incidentally

books by independent author Jnana Hodson: 

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/401122

via Smashwords ebooks

~~~

The Legend of Colonel Sheena Johnson

Sheena with bow & arrow

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by Rawclyde!

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One girl-soldier on my crew fought off

5 wanna-be rapists in her platoon

Killed them & did not get caught

Her blood-lust knew no bounds when it came to the Taliban

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500 mysteriously disappeared while she ranged around

Out of uniform for one month in northeast Afghanistan

After which she was promoted to Colonel

This included 3 Waziristan villages that she leveled

(Nobody knows how and, anyway, it’s just a rumor)

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She was assigned to nurture an ill-conceived outpost

Deep in the mountains, so deep it scratched the back

Of Pakistan & consequently was doomed until

She got there & winked at her suddenly happy soldiers

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They got so charged-up just looking at her

They paved a crumbling rock road with asphalt

For 100 miles before lunch time & without a break

Nobody but one village urchin knows where they got the asphalt

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Then one freezing morning she & her sparse gear were gone

The outpost fell into an endless & bottomless depression

Until they found a dead Taliban with an arrow in his back

Suddenly they knew ~ the Colonel wasn’t gone at all

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Now the soldiers at this craven location pull guard duty

With smiles on their faces & joy in their hearts

‘Cuz every so often when least expected they catch a glimpse

Col. Sheena Johnson, half naked, stalking Taliban in the snarky shadows…

~

(Copyright Clyde Collins 2013)

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Sheena_86c69e62

Col. Sheena Johnson, U.S. Army

The Afghaneeland Adventure Series | Old Timer Chronicle II

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I’ve Never Been To Afghanistan

by Rawclyde!

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MV5BMjE1MjkxNDIwNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTc0OTgwMw@@__V1__SX640_SY724_

Col. Sheena Johnson, homesick for the USA, comforted by Rawclyde!

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     I’ve never been to Afghanistan.  I’ll never go to Afghanistan.  When I was in the U.S. Army fer 4 years (1980-1984), they sent me to Hawaii to support support during peace time.  Hard duty.  But somebody had to do it.

     A few years back, the Taliban government wouldn’t hand over Ben Laden, so our government with our military wiped them out ~ and Afghanistan became our broken nation to rebuild ~ and NATO has partnered with us.  So now we’re all in Afghanistan.  Lots of us just don’t know it.

     Welcome to Afghanistan ~ one tough nut to crack.  How’s it feel, American?  How’s it feel trying to rebuild Afghanee Land on the cheap in the image of yourself?  Are you in denial?

     We’re rebuilding Afghanistan in the image of ourself because its the only way we know how to rebuild a nation ~ and this particular nation is such a basket case that all we can really do is fill it with hardboiled eggs, say “Happy Easter,” and leave.  It’s taking us about twelve years.  Hopefully we can leave unlike the way we left Saigon.  We got chased out of there.  Hopefully we can leave Afghanistan somewhat more smoothly ~ maybe somewhat like we left Iraq.  We’re trying very hard ~ except for the Tea-Party Republicans in the US House of Representatives.  They shut our government down for two weeks recently.  It’s like they don’t even know we’re at war in Afghanistan.  Their shutdown of the government probably helped the Taliban & their assorted cronies kill more Americans ~ maybe like us draft-dodgers did in Vietnam.  So I guess many of us are guilty at one time or another.

     I always end up having to explain ~ if I was a draft-dodger yesteryear, how is it that I was in the US Army too?  Well, I draft-dodged.  Then later I lied my way into the Army.  They knew I was lying about never having been a fugitive of the selective service system.  They wanted good liars at the time.  I’d make a good spy.

     I wouldn’t go to Vietnam.  We were the aggressor.  However, the Soviet Union was the “aggressor,” incidentally in Afghanistan, when I enlisted.  I was also unemployed and needed a job.  I was 30 years old.  1980.  I was a crazy boy.  I still am at 63.

     My older brother, Dill, hates reading about this worse than I hate writing about it.  He volunteered, US Army, went to Vietnam.  He was a helicopter mechanic & crew-chief at Pleiku & came back a silent sergeant ~ became an airline mechanic and in due time retired ~ a regular guy ~ married twice ~ two sons.  And our family is proud of him.

     About two weeks after he got home from the Vietnam War, I showed him an article in Time Magazine about Pleiku getting run over in the TET Offensive.  He barely missed a big boom boom.  He didn’t say anything.  He just read the paragraph & quietly became a right winger.  I became a left winger.  And the eagle happily flutters its wings as it swoops across the canyon.

     My little brother is an artist.  My big sister was a holistic masseuse.  Now she is an old lady.  We’re all getting pretty old now.

     The theme of Old Timer Chronicle II has something to do with, obviously, Afghanistan.  The reason for this is ~ I have a TV now but Afghanistan is rarely mentioned on the news.  It’s not mentioned too often in newspapers either lately.  Yet we still have people there in harm’s way.  So, kind of like a newspaper editor, I’m kind of covering the war until we leave there, hopefully as scheduled come November, 2014.

     After all, the US Army is the only entity that ever really payed me to write.  They made me a journalist for a while.

~~~

sheena_07_c

! My gal on leave !

Col. Sheena Johnson, U.S. Army

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Duty World

http://dutypoeticslab.yolasite.com

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Col. Johnson At The Outpost (III)

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Col. Sheena Johnson, U.S. Army

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Col. Johnson reads to you from

THE OUTPOST

a tome told true by Jake Tapper:

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     One of the elders from the Mandigal shura, an ancient man with a thick white beard, had been staring right into Tucker’s eyes as he spoke.  Tucker could feel his simmering glare; the old man was looking at him with an expression that seemed to him to be saying, Look at this stupid fucking kid yelling at us.  The twenty-four-year-old lieutenant could only imagine the war and poverty that had marked this man’s life, only guess how little he must care about being barked at by some young pup in yet another occupier’s foreign tongue.

     “We’re here for only a short time,” Tucker said, “Then we’re going to return to America, where we have happy lives ~ where our roads are paved, our children go to school, and our police protect us.  You, however, will continue to struggle with violence, as will your children and their children.  If you want to make a difference, let us know.  We’re here to help.”

     The Americans left Urmul and returned to the outpost…

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Sheena2

Col. Sheena Johnson, U.S. Army

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the tome:

http://www.amazon.com/Outpost-Untold-Story-American-Valor/dp/031618540X/ref=sr_1_1/176-9910068-1373460?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1382304802&sr=1-1&keywords=the+outpost+by+jake+tapper

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Col. Johnson At The Outpost

MV5BMTM2NTU0NjQ4N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzI1OTgwMw@@__V1__SX640_SY465_

Col. Sheena Johnson, U.S. Army

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Col. Johnson reads to you from

THE OUTPOST

a tome told true by Jake Tapper:

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     Anayatullah then asked the elders, “Before the Americans came to Kamdesh, had you ever heard of a development project?”  Of course not, he said.  The insurgents were making no effort to build a stronger Afghanistan, whereas the United States was trying to help.  “So,” he announced, “we need to help the Americans.”  Two days before, insurgents had fired a PKM machine gun into the Camp Keating mosque, which was used primarily by the ANA soldiers and the outpost’s Afghan Security Guards.  Firing into a mosque?  “These are not Muslims,” Anayatullah declared, “they are terrorists.  If you help the bad guys, we will destroy you.  If the local people help the enemy fighters, they are not helping the government;  they are considered to be Al Qaeda.”  Others weighed in, expressing similar sentiments.

     Meetings proceeded in this same manner over the next couple of months.  Sometimes they took place at Combat Outpost Keating, but it was preferable to hold them in the villages, because “forcing” the Americans to travel to them enhanced the elders’ credibility in the eyes of their people.  Kolenda and Hutto noticed, in fact, that there seemed to be a direct correlation between their participation in these shuras and a decline in violence.  By the end of September, attacks on Camp Keating and OP Warheit, as well as on Bulldog Troop patrols and missions, had ceased…

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SHEENA_01_007p_col_2

Col. Sheena Johnson, U.S. Army

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Afghanistan US Army

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The ANA Holds on in Helmand

Salute1HRJPGstar

Afghan National Army recruits under a NATO contingent in Kabul, 2010. (Photo by G. A. Volb)

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story by Casey Afghanistan

FRACTURED ATLAS

September 19, 2013

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Following a lull in violence during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the Taliban-led insurgency stepped up attacks across Afghanistan throughout August. There have been a few notable ambushes of Afghan security forces—in Nangarhar 22 police were killed in early August and in Farah another 15 were killed on August 29th.  Yet, post Ramadan attacks mostly conform to the suicide and roadside bombs and occasional one-off complex attacks that we’ve come to expect of this conflict. The significant, and mostly un-reported, exception is the district of Sangin in southern Helmand Province.

At a brightly lit Kebab shop on the edge of Kabul’s Shar-e Naw Park I sat down with a friend and former colleague who has been researching and writing on southern Afghanistan for a decade shortly after he returned from a week-long Eid visit with family in Taliban-controlled areas of several northern Helmand districts, including Sangin. What he described was at once heartening and dispiriting—a national army holding its own, but a government with no coherent political plan and a population that saw continued conflict as inevitable.

Throughout Ramadan, and even into the Eid holiday, the Taliban and Afghan National Army (ANA) were engaged in drawn out fire-fights from fixed positions across the Helmand River in an area of Sangin known as Sarwan Qala.  British and US forces which have fought in this opium trafficking (and heroin processing) hub intermittently since 2005 are all but gone, and with them the attention of the international media.

What remains is an ANA which has developed an ad hoc, but effective, working relationship with the communal militias known as Afghan Local Police (ALP) and, to the surprise of both the internationals that mentor them and the Taliban who fight them, are refusing to buckle. If they are not necessarily gaining ground along the upper Helmand River, they are not losing it either.

The Taliban have responded by sending fighters from across Helmand to Sarwan Qala. “Right now there are about 26 different Taliban fronts from around Helmand which are in Sangin. Usually each front, which is six to ten guys, fights for seven days before rotating out. Where I was, there were usually about 50 fighters on the front line,” my friend explained.

In this case the front line was the Helmand River. The Taliban were dug into abandoned houses on the northern side while the ANA were in a forward operating base to the south. Sometimes the fire fights across the river would last for 20 hours at a stretch.

The fact that there is a front line at all represents a drastic shift in this very asymmetric war. In Sangin this is a shift that plays into the strengths of the conventional ANA forces. “The Taliban are really impressed with the way the ANA is fighting,” my friend said.  “The feeling is that the ANA could take back some of the area that was lost when two or three ALP posts were captured before Ramadan. The Taliban I talked to would rather fight anybody—including the internationals—than the ANA.”

The ANA’s ability to maintain government control in Helmand is not so much a factor of its soldiers’ willingness or ability to fight, but of the supply chain. What those close to the fighting here understand is that once the ANA is no longer able to get fuel for their up armored Humvees, for instance, their advantage will be lost.

On the Taliban side, most of the fighters have basic motives and local roots.. Most of the fighters in Sarwan Qala are farmers from throughout the province who are fighting because “our country was invaded and Jihad is a duty.”  In conversations with several fighters, my friend found that they were mostly without an opinion on the types of issues—upcoming elections, peace negotiations—that are consuming the international civilian-military effort.

“I think that even if there was a peace deal with the Taliban leadership tomorrow, the district level fighters may not follow along, mostly because there is this huge gap between the provincial level insurgents and the guys fighting in the districts.” he said. “And the guys fighting in the districts are pretty clueless—they have a limited understanding of anything that is going on outside their areas.”

Which is not to say that rural areas like Sangin are altogether clueless. On the contrary, my friend found the elders here to be politically informed and inclined to think in longer terms. The consensus was that the war would continue, but that it would change; that the Taliban would not simply “win” or return to power, even here in their heartland, anytime soon. In general there was a lot of uncertainty but also more room than in the past to open up dialogue; not with the mostly clueless local Taliban, but with their fathers’ and uncles’.

“More than any other time in the past few years it is time for the government to approach the elders to convince them to bring their influence over the Taliban in their districts,” my friend said. “I think the elders would be more open to listening to the government than they have been in years. But the government isn’t doing the outreach.”

In 2010 as the US was pouring thousands of troops into Helmand and Kandahar, ISAF and the various civilian missions in the south were already reframing the battle in political terms. As early as 2011 the narrow military objectives of the “surge” had, by many estimates, been met—Taliban gains were reversed, critical population centers were back under government control—but the political issues—particular as regards local level power-sharing—remained unresolved.

Not much has changed today, the biggest unknown is not whether the Afghan National Army can hold out in a 20-hour fire fight with four dozen Taliban, but will the government be able to open up a meaningful dialogue, and make concrete overtures for political inclusion, to the leaders of communities who appear to be otherwise content to play the long game and allow their sons and nephews to continue to fire across the Helmand River.

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South Korea US Military Exercise

Fewer & fewer Americans in Afghanistan…

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Story courtesy of Fractured Atlas:

http://fracturedatlas.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/with-no-end-in-sight-the-ana-holds-on-in-helmand/

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Afghan Forces Got Too Many Casualties

Operation Enduring Freedom

U.S. trained & equipped soldier of the Afghan National Army, Nangalam, Afghanistan, 2009 (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jennifer Cohen)…

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General Joseph Dunford, the highest US and Nato commander in the country, said that the security forces’ weekly death toll regularly tops 100 and therefore they may need five more years of western support before they can fight independently.

He added that it was too early to tell whether Nato had been right to end combat operations and only offer training and support in the war torn country this Spring.

He said that both Nato and Afghan commanders viewed the number of men being lost as “serious”, telling the Guardian: “I’m not assuming that those casualties are sustainable.”

The rapidly expanded security forces, now 350,000 strong, have grasped the basics but struggle to support themselves in areas varying from logistics and planning to intelligence-gathering and back-up in difficult battles.

The west officially shifted their role in Afghanistan from combat to support and training in June, and General Dunford said that “time is going to tell” whether that was the correct decision.

His comments highlight a rift between the views of western politicians keen to end a bloody and expensive war and military commanders on the ground who see Afghan forces struggling to cope.

All Nato combat troops are due to leave by 2014, and President Barack Obama has said that in 17 months the transition to Afghan control will be complete, although he has promised a follow up Nato training mission.

However, no firm date has been set for the end of assistance, and General Dunford told the Guardian that western troops may need to remain until 2018 to tackle problems from the air force to intelligence.

“I look at Afghan security forces development as really kind of three to five years,” General Dunford said, adding that this could include a combat role such as close air support.

The US is currently negotiating a long-term security deal with Kabul to pave the way for wider western co-operation, but Washington has warned that unless a Bilateral Security Agreement is agreed in the next few months they will be forced to remove all their troops…

Despite the heavy losses the Afghans have managed to remain “resilient,” General Dunford added, preventing the Taliban from accomplishing and ensuring 80 per cent of the population is secured from violence.

The Afghan defence ministry no longer publishes monthly death tolls because of concerns about morale, and the interior ministry said that 1,792 police officers had been killed since March.

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Afghan Army Struggles in District Under Siege

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by Azam Ahmed

New York Times ~ September 11, 2013

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SANGIN, Afghanistan — Some days, the Afghan soldiers worry that the mud walls around their headquarters in this embattled district are barely enough to keep the Taliban out. Perhaps more problematic is that the crumbling facade appears to be keeping the soldiers in.

Nolay Base takes direct fire almost every day from the Taliban. With more forces lost here than almost any other district in the country, the Afghan soldiers seldom leave the installation, and mostly refuse to conduct missions — too dangerous, they say. And when soldiers head out to go on brief home leaves, a growing number of them desert rather than return, their commanders say.

“It’s difficult to find local people who are against the Taliban,” said the executive officer of the brigade here, Col. Abdulhai Neshat. “This place is like a prison.”

In this corner of Helmand Province, widely agreed to be the most critical running battle in the country today, Afghan forces are in trouble. Though it does not reflect the broader security situation in Afghanistan, Sangin (pronounced SANG-in) offers a troubling portrait of life where the Taliban decides to make its mark and the Americans no longer fight, a situation that is likely to multiply as coalition forces completely withdraw next year.

Since launching their major offensive in late May, the Taliban have easily weathered the halfhearted attempts by the Afghans to reclaim Sangin, despite aid from international forces. In the past week alone, the Taliban have cleared out several villages, displacing up to 1,000 people and overrunning several security checkpoints, locals and Afghan officials say.

Coalition commanders are quietly growing alarmed, concerned that if the situation gets worse they may have to intervene for the second time this summer in an area officially turned over to Afghan security control.

Since the war’s beginning, the district, in the heart of Afghanistan’s poppy-growing country, has been home to the fiercest fighting in the country. British and American forces struggled here for years, taking heavy casualties to create even just a modest security bubble to free the district center from insurgent pressure.

Those gains have started to evaporate under the Afghans this year, as casualties mount and as a reluctance to confront the Taliban allows the insurgents to broaden their territory.

About 120 soldiers and police officers have been killed this summer, with more than double that number wounded, according to the district governor and others. Among the ranks of soldiers, attrition hovers near 50 percent, counting deaths, debilitating injuries and soldiers who never return from leave, according to the executive officer of the main unit in northern Helmand Province, the Second Brigade of the 215th Afghan Army Corps.

While elsewhere in the country Afghan forces are taking the fight to the Taliban, American commanders complain that their counterparts in Sangin have developed an “addiction to bases” — building new fortified posts instead of leaving the ones they have to attack the insurgents.

Even then, they are losing ground. Afghan forces have dismantled many security checkpoints they felt they could not defend, and at least six have been captured and held by the Taliban since May. In the past week, more have been taken down, and at least four new posts have been overrun, local officials say.

Desperate to regain momentum, the Afghan Army has been chewing through senior officers here. The commander of the Second Brigade has been fired, as has the battalion commander in Sangin. Casualties have taken a toll on the leadership, too: last month, the Taliban killed the district intelligence chief.

“Right now, Sangin is like an open space for the Taliban,” said the Sangin district governor, Habibullah Shamlanai. “Anyone can enter, and anyone can leave.”

Sangin became the focal point of the fighting season in late May, when the Taliban kicked off their biggest assault of the year. Massing around 600 fighters in a 36-hour blitz, the insurgents attacked about 20 Afghan patrol bases in a strategic area of the district that borders the river.

The Afghans were overrun in some locations, while other outposts were abandoned when the local police staffing them ran out of ammunition. An initial attempt to reclaim the lost ground in the aftermath of the embarrassing assault was somewhat successful, but several bases still remain in Taliban hands.

In July, the Afghans mounted a major counteroffensive, drawing in an entire battalion from the Third Brigade of the 215th Army Corps in Marja and bringing both British soldiers and American Marines onto the battlefield to assist.

But after a strong start, participants say, the Afghans refused to continue. Losses mounted, momentum dissipated, and the mission was left less than half complete, leaving the green zone, a lush strip of foliage that hugs the waters of the Sangin River, largely in the control of the Taliban.

In August, after the end of Ramadan, the Afghan commanders were nervous, expecting another major Taliban assault. To safeguard some of the more remote bases, the brigade sergeant major, Zabiullah Syeddi, assembled a quick reaction force to move farther into the hostile green zone.

As his men prepared to leave Nolay Base, taking up positions beside a row of idling Humvees and tow trucks, a large explosion suddenly shook the ground. Several soldiers ran to see whether they were under attack. Sergeant Major Syeddi, a veteran soldier, swung the door of his Humvee open to investigate.

When he returned, he ran his hand over his face and shrugged. The insurgents, he said, had laid an improvised explosive device on the driveway of the brigade headquarters, in plain sight of the guard towers.

At 2 a.m. that night, the sergeant major began making a series of scheduled check-in calls to three neighboring base commanders. Two responded immediately — all clear. But there was no answer at the third, the Mahmud Agha outpost, several hundred yards away.

His voice grew more desperate with each call, until finally he disappeared out of sight. He reappeared a few minutes later, walking slowly.

“They were sleeping,” he said.

The next morning, on the way home, the convoy drove through the Sangin bazaar, the largest in Northern Helmand. Fabrics, food and electronics lined the shelves of dozens of storefronts as merchants and shoppers stood along the bustling road.

A line of soldiers was on a rare foot patrol in the bazaar, bunched together, guns slung loosely over their shoulders.

Near a central roundabout, the convoy stopped to allow reporters from The New York Times to speak with a handful of residents, who offered bleak assessments.

“I just stay in the shop and don’t go outside,” said one merchant, Hayatullah, standing at the edge of his electronics store. “This is my job, how can I leave?”

A crowd gathered, describing the district as a land divided — the center, which was somewhat secure, and everywhere else, a wasteland.

“There is fighting every day — every day, bullets are flying,” said Hayatullah, 20, who like many Afghans goes by a single name.

Eager to leave, the soldiers returned to their vehicles. They roared past the foot patrol as they pulled out of the market.

Suddenly a loud explosion ripped through the air, sending up a cloud of smoke and dust near the road. A rocket-propelled grenade aimed at the convoy had missed. The turret gunners aimed their weapons in the direction of the boom while the drivers sped off.

Seconds later, the real ambush began — against the patrol left behind at the bazaar. A 10-minute firefight raged in the heart of the market district, claiming at least two soldiers, one shot through the eye. The Taliban, for all anyone knew, suffered zero casualties.

The soldiers visiting the wounded in the brigade hospital, a clean facility manned by a single medic, offered words of comfort to their comrades. But a sense of fatalism had already gripped the base.

Still, Colonel Neshat seemed temporarily jolted from the complacence that has plagued his men. He swore to search and clear the area where the ambush was staged.

“We have to, we have to,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief. “If we don’t find them my plan is to put a good post in place to disrupt them.”

Sharifullah Sahak contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.

~

38 Eagle

Sangin

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U.S. Soldiers Find Peace In The Valley

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by Azam Ahmed

New York Times ~ August 30, 2013

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NANGALAM, Afghanistan — The Americans arrived under cover of night, the static electricity from their helicopter blades casting halos of blue in the pitch black.

It was their first return to the Pech Valley — a rugged swath of eastern Afghanistan so violent they nicknamed it the Valley of Death — since the American military abruptly ended an offensive against the Taliban here in 2011 after taking heavy casualties.

But the Americans, from the First Battalion of the 327th Infantry, had not come back to fight. Instead, their visit this summer was a chance to witness something unthinkable two years ago: the Afghan forces they had left in charge of the valley then, and who nobody believed could hold the ground even for weeks, have not just stood — they have had an effect.

The main road leading in the Pech is now drivable, to a point, and rockets no longer rain down constantly on the base the Americans had left the Afghans. Local residents said they felt safer than they had in years.

“Man, you couldn’t walk this road without getting lit up,” said Staff Sgt. Benjamin Griffiths, amazed as he and about a dozen soldiers surveyed one area the day after their arrival.

No one is exactly sure how the Afghan forces have managed to make some gains that eluded the Americans for so many years in the Pech Valley. But it presents a sketch portrait of what Afghan-led security might look like in some places after the international military coalition is gone next year.

Interviews with American and Afghan officials and local residents paint the progress as an amalgam of many things: the absence of foreign troops as an irritant, the weakening of the Taliban and an improved Afghan Army. Officials also noted the beginning of de facto agreements in some areas between Afghan soldiers and militants about what is and is not off-limits — not a particularly positive sign, but still an indication of how the battle might change when it is Afghan fighting Afghan.

The insurgents long promised that if Americans left, the violence would subside — a narrative American commanders seized on at the time. The thinking went like this: Foreign fighters drawn to Afghanistan would lose interest, or go elsewhere, like Syria, and locals who were not so much pro-Taliban as anti-outsider would ease their militancy.

That seems to mostly be the case in the Pech now; locals say the insurgents have been more reluctant to attack fellow Muslims, though they are still far from docile.

“When Americans were here and were driving around or patrolling the area, nobody looked at them as friends or liberators,” said Hajji Yar Mohammed, a tribal elder in nearby Manogai District. “Everyone in the villages was trying to fight them for the sake of jihad.”

The combination of Taliban determination, local hostility and dauntingly rugged terrain made the valley particularly deadly for Americans, who over all lost more than 100 dead during the last offensive here.

When it started in 2009, the Pech offensive was billed as a critical chance to bloody the Taliban in a place they had kept in their grip for years. But by the time the mission was called off, in early 2011, there were open assertions that the valley was not worth the losses being inflicted. Some American soldiers quietly expressed the view that their Afghan successors were being given a suicide mission.

So the Americans left, and the Afghan forces moved into the outposts the troops left behind. No one gave them much chance.

Two years later, the commander of the American battalion’s overall brigade combat team decided to orchestrate the trip to Pech to show that, instead, the Afghans had made good on American sacrifices.

Whatever amount of success the Afghans have had, however, has not been without at least some American help.

An aggressive campaign of American drone strikes in the Pech over the past year and a half has been instrumental, Afghans and American officials say. They assert that the strikes have devastated the insurgent networks, focusing on Qaeda leaders and their facilitators. The recent targeted killing of the Nuristan shadow governor, Dost Muhammad Khan, considered one of the top Taliban leaders in the country and a crucial asset for Al Qaeda, was a high point of the campaign.

More than American air power, with its looming expiration date next year, is in effect here, though. Analysts and officials also say that the Afghan approach to policing the area has been a strong point. While the Americans consolidated on one main base and a few outposts, the Afghans have set up more than a dozen new outposts and checkpoints farther into the valley. Their aim is focused: securing the main road that runs through the Pech through Nangalam and keeping it open for the first time in nearly 10 years.

The Afghan National Army has also notably improved in the intervening two years, the visiting Americans noted.

“The A.N.A. we left in this valley are not the A.N.A. here right now,” said Sgt. Merle Powell, who, like others, believed the Afghans would be overrun in a matter of weeks after the American departure.

What is less clear is how big a role deals worked out with the insurgents might play in pacifying the area.

While most Afghan officers were reluctant to talk about any such compromises in the Pech Valley, one general — Gen. Nasim Sangin, the executive officer of the Second Brigade of the Afghan Army’s 201st Corps — briefly discussed a larger example of restrained military ambition, in the nearby Korangal Valley. General Sangin said the army had decided not to mount operations there because it lacked the resources and the loss of life would hardly be worth it.

“The Korangal, it is a good place for the insurgents,” he said. “It is not a good place for us.”

The Americans say they have no evidence of arrangements between the security forces and the insurgents, but recognize that the Afghans may not have the capacity to go after particularly remote areas.

“Some of these places inflict too much pain for too little gain,” said Col. J. P. McGee, the commander of the First Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division.

As the visiting Americans continued their foray around their old base in the Pech Valley, they snapped pictures and talked about how much had changed. Sometimes, they stumbled on mementos they had left behind. One soldier plucked a picture of two women in bikinis that American troops had long ago taped to the wall. “I bet this picture has made many an Afghan soldier happy,” he told his colleagues.

Capt. Ramone Leon-Guerrero pointed out sites of rocket attacks, noting the damage and offering a few words of context like some grim tour guide. “I had to do crater analysis on every single one,” he explained.

Reminders of loss lurked everywhere, but the tone was more nostalgic than sad. Some men even acknowledged they missed it — the action, the camaraderie, the shared struggle.

“I told myself if I got a chance to come back I would,” Captain Leon-Guerrero said. “It’s one of those things you always want to look back on. Like going back to your old neighborhood and driving past your old house.”

Sangar Rahimi and Khalid Alokozai contributed reporting.

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